Archive for April, 2012

Will Power Alone is not Enough

Summary of The Secrets of Self-Improvement by Marina Krakovsky

A study published in Psychological Science, 2009 showed that “participants with the highest opinion of their self restraint were the most likely to give into temptation.  Those with the most modest, realistic assessment of their own abilities fared best.” This article points out that both self-awareness and self-motivation are key components of successful change.

Most of the time, people make significant changes on their own without the help of doctors or programs. Based on some of the latest neuroscientific research, this article highlights some of the key steps for making changes – long beyond the week after New Year’s Eve.  In summary they are:

  1. Maintaining realistic expectations
  2. Aligning with your deep motivators
  3. Taking baby steps
  4. Formulating Action Plans

According to Perth based psychologist, Martin Hegger, it’s easier to justify our actions and much harder to align our actions with our thoughts. Habits being hard to break is what makes them useful, so it’s not easy to change.  For instance, being in places aligned with a habit will have a big impact on our unconscious processing, making old habits easy to fall in to.  Ex-smokers know this when they go to an old pub, or house where they used to smoke.

Some pointers to keep in mind when forming new habits…

  • Lapses Are Normal. Don’t treat them as failure, just make adjustments to get back on track as soon as possible.
  • Mental Contrasting. There are two ways that mental imaging can help you break old habits The images to contrast are:
  1. A picture of the successful result.
  2. The specific obstacles that can get in the way.

For example, when resolving to save money, it helps to a) imagine the larger bank balance and b) wrestling with the decision to join friends on an expensive dinner.  This mental contrasting can help you “procrastinate less and tackle challenges more enthusiastically.”

  • Engage Your Autopilot. Imagine yourself taking steps to support your new habit in simple practical terms.  Seeing yourself stopping at the shop on the way home to buy three kinds of vegetables will help make the change easier.  This planning backfires when we attach rationale statements like “because I want to lose weight.”  Such rationalisations involve the thinking mind and the opportunity for doubt and old habitual mental processes can hijack the change process.  Using positive language, “will” as opposed to “will not,” is also key.
  • Find Your Own Why.  “Should do’s” without a link to personal values are hard to sustain.  When looking at new habits, ensure they are aligned with your psychological needs – such as those posited in humanist theory such as competence, contribution, closeness and autonomy. People who spent time finding their own personal motivations were far more successful than those incentivised by external motivators, such as financial gain.
  • Take Baby Steps. If completing the task you set is questionable, then it’s not a good start.  Breaking down goals into small achievable steps can help both give quicker wins and reduce the impact of setbacks. Developing coping skills such as effective scheduling and realistic goal setting are two key ways to support change.

Finally, remember that change is never easy and not all these steps will work for everyone or every habit.  This latest research suggests that the most important thing is to find your own way, and particularly ensuring these changes are aligned with your own values.  It’s not going to happen overnight, but it is never the wrong time to start taking steps toward a better life. Enjoy!


Brain “Buy” Pass

Consumers don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say. – David Ogilvy

Summary of Brain Sells by Gemma Calvert, Director of Neurosense, RSA Journal Winter 2011

Neuroscientific research shows us that a vast amount of our decision making is governed by processes outside of our conscious awareness (see also Damasio).  Much of these are influenced by our emotional brain: “by how [we] implicitly feel, rather than how we think.”  This coupled with our unnerving ability to post-rationalise decisions makes it very difficult for manufacturers and marketers to really know what drives consumer choice.

Enter neuromarketing – the emerging science of what happens in the brain to understand consumer behaviour.  Neurosense is pioneering this technology to help manufacturers measure unconscious responses to a vast range of new products:

This, in turn, helps them understand how to communicate the products emotional benefits most effectively to consumers…. this information helps design better products that meet consumer’s underlying needs.

For example, we don’t buy toothpaste because it provides 30% more whitening (feature) but because we believe this will make us feel better about ourselves and more confident.

Over the past ten years, extensive research has found that implicit responses are often better at predicting our subsequent behaviour than explicit attitudes.

This science can now measure how well frames in a commercial are absorbed and whether some of these changes can stimulate the brain’s reward areas.  The range of emotions that they can measure include: trust, anticipation (of price), empathy and brand loyalty, to name a few.

These marketers are measuring things like the “right” amount of sound to be heard in a car.  Consumers want quietness – except when they accelerate, they like to hear the “roar”.  They also look at people’s response to touch and smell, both highly stimulating of emotional brain areas, though often processed unconsciously.  I will leave you with this interesting example:

The French government commissioned some research to assess the impact of anti smoking campaigns.  They found that the “Smoking Kills” logos offered no further deterrent because they stimulated the brains guilt response that is highly correlated to the area that craves nicotine.  (I think the cigarette companies probably already knew that…) So next time you think you are making a rational decision, you may be wise to think again.